U.S. Navy Reservist Safi Rauf, who was captured by the Taliban in December while providing humanitarian aid to Afghans in Kabul, is now being released after Biden administration officials secured his release, CNN first revealed Friday.
After more than 100 days of negotiations with the Taliban, the U.S. officials struck a deal for the release of Rauf and his brother Anees Khalil. Both are Afghan refugees themselves and co-founders of Human First Coalition, with which they were providing humanitarian aid to Afghans in Kabul after the U.S. withdrawal last year.
Rauf announced on Friday, “we were released due to the efforts of the US government (most especially political officer JP Feldmayer, Special Representative Tom West, and Lt. Col. Jason Hock), our family and loved ones, the Qatari government, the British government, our team at Human First Coalition, and countless friends in country, in the region, and all over the world.”
“Safiullah Rauf and Anees Khalil were released after being unjustly detained in Afghanistan,” a State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday. “They are now in Qatar before traveling home. We are grateful for the efforts of all those who worked to secure their release but more work remains. Unjustly holding Americans captive is always unacceptable, and we will not stop until every American who is being unjustly held against their will is able to hug their families once again.”
Rauf was born in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan. He came to the U.S. where he graduated high school before deploying to Afghanistan to work as an interpreter and cultural advisor for U.S. Special Operations for four years. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserves in 2016 and is a medical student at Georgetown University.
Rauf was named a 2020 Tillman Scholar by the Patt Tillman Foundation.
Rauf was part of the U.S. military’s COVID-19 response efforts when the USNS Comfort hospital ship was deployed to the New York Metropolitan area to relieve hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in March 2020.
A State Department official said on Friday, “These individuals had been detained in Afghanistan since December. When it became clear they would not be permitted to leave, we planned and executed an approach to negotiate their release and reunification with their loved ones. This was an interagency team that conceived, planned out, and executed this important mission to bring home an American citizen and an American lawful permanent resident. We also took advantage of the opportunity to again press for the release of Mark Frerichs, as we do in every meeting we have with the Taliban. We will never let up anywhere, at any time, in our efforts to bring Americans who are unjustly detained back home — whether it’s Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria, China, Iran, or elsewhere.”